Green Leader Sonia Furstenau is pushing new Premier David Eby to articulate his vision to fix health-care, housing and drug poisoning issues facing British Columbians, rather than rely on the “status quo.”
The Cowichan Valley MLA has spent the last 12 months campaigning for extensions of safe supply, actions to address problems in the medical system, and an end to old-growth logging.
Despite recent announcements by the new premier, she summed up the last year in B.C. politics as the government “treading water” due to a lack of quick and timely responses.
“What we needed was a year of responding to these overlapping crises and giving people a sense of, ‘We know how to get out of this, and we’re going to start moving in that direction,’” she told BC Today in a year-end interview.
Instead, Furstenau said the province got a year of “status quo” which began with the budget announcement in February that she said dropped the ball on investments in non-market housing, conservation and safe supply.
“It was a train on the track and it’s staying in the station,” she quipped.
Furstenau said that while a lot of Eby’s individual announcements were positive, he still hasn’t provided an overlapping vision for how he is going to handle the crises facing the province.
On health care, Furstenau said recent announcements on a new payment plan for doctors, increased opportunities for internationally educated health professionals, and a recommitment to building a new medical school are positive steps but don’t add up to a coherent health-care strategy. She said the government needs to focus on directing its resources and not just throwing policies at the wall to see what sticks.
“The reality is, if we want an equitable, universal primary health-care system then let’s treat it like we treat a public education system,” said Furstenau. “Government creates the infrastructure, and the professionals operate within it and deliver that primary health care.”
Furstenau knows how parents feel when waiting in an emergency room for hours on end with their sick children.
In the summer, her 15-year-old daughter got struck by appendicitis while visiting family in Edmonton and ended up waiting 29 hours “in agony” for surgery.
While this didn’t happen in B.C., she said too many parents and children are going through the same experience here at home.
As for housing, the Greens have long pushed for it to be a human right — something the premier recently agreed to under questioning from Furstenau’s colleague Adam Olsen, but Furstenau says words need to be met with action.
“If that’s our starting place, then how do we achieve that? I really don’t think we are going to achieve it by doing more of the same,” she said.
“What I’d like to see from this premier is a real commitment to a real campaign: we are going to build non-market housing, we are going to make sure that there is affordable rental housing in every community, because we are seeing too many places get hollowed out because people cannot afford to live there.”
Furstenau also emphasized the importance of the overdose crisis, having served on an all-party committee investigating the causes of and solutions to the hundreds of British Columbians dying each month from a toxic drug supply.
While she considers many of the recommendations of the committee’s report were watered down and similar to those in previous reports by chief coroner Lisa Lapointe and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, she said the testimony the committee received was invaluable in pushing for better investments in harm reduction and the implementation of non-prescribed safe supply.
“What that did was create a shared sense of reality of what this crisis is, it helped remove us from some of the myths around the crisis,” she said. “It was so essential in bringing all the parties together, bringing the public in, and being able to just identify a shared reality that’s critical for effective decision-making.”
Now Eby needs to act on all the recommendations in 2023, she said.
“What does he see as his role and government’s role in delivering to British Columbians what they need in order to thrive?” Furstenau said. “We have to get past this story of ‘It’s too hard, it’s too complicated, it’s too big.’ It’s not. We can do big things.”